Talent bookers vs. talent agents

Hey Dave – You’ve been referring to talent agents and talent bookers. What’s the difference? – Big G

How big are you?

Hey Big G – Good question. But even if it were a lousy question, I’d still tell you it was great because… Well, let’s just call it a personal safety concern because nobody calls me Big Dave. I’m wondering… how BIG are you?

Talent agents are different than talent bookers. Here’s the scoop:

A talent AGENT works with a selected group of performers. For our case, let’s use comedians. The talent agent’s business is called an AGENCY and the person working directly with a comedian would be his or her AGENT. They are business partners.

A talent agent’s job is to get work for the comedian.

Talent bookers, event planners, club managers or anyone looking to hire a comedian would contact the comedian’s agent. The agent would work out the details, including the important where, when and how much the comic is paid for the gig. The agent would also take care of the contracts and in many cases collect the money, take out his (the agent’s) commission and pay the comedian.

I could use both!

Of course, like a lot of stuff in the entertainment biz, there are different methods. I’ve worked with comics recently that are paid in full following their last show (for instance by a comedy club manager at the end of a weekend booking) and the comedian sends a commission to his or her agent. It all depends on what they’ve agreed to do.

Usually this type of talent agent representation requires a formal agreement with a legally signed exclusive contract between the agent and the comic. Again, from experience, I don’t know too many agents that are willing to free-lance. This term means they would schedule a comedian for a paid gig without a having a signed contract with that comedian.

The reasons they would consider free-lancing might be:

  • To see how well the agent and comedian work together before joining into a legal business partnership and…
  • To see if the comedian can get bookings and is worth the time and effort the agent will need to spend building his career. In other words, can they both make money together?
  • Free-lancing seemed to be more common years ago (working comics please correct me if I’m wrong!). It was like dating without a promise you won’t see other people. You know – playing the field.

But things have gotten more protective business-wise as the business has become BIGGER money-wise.

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Talent agents want to protect their investment, which is the time and effort spent finding work for the comedian. Sometimes this investment will include money, but honestly (think about it) they’re not going throw BIG money into a comedian’s career unless the comic promises not to see other people.

In this case it means not working with other talent agents.

Reason?

The free-lance gig might parlay into a BIGGER paying gig. Will the comic throw the talent agent a BIGGER commission for this second booking? Of course, the honorable answer would be yes. But how often have you heard show business called an honorable profession?

That’s why most everyone today uses a contract – with all the “i’s” dotted, the “t’s” crossed and legal signatures at the bottom of the page.

Want more? Okay, here’s different scenario on the same example:

A different free-lancing agent might get the same comic a gig with a BIGGER payday. More money is usually a good incentive for the comedian to stop working with the original talent agent and start working with the new one.

That means the first agent (following me so far?) is the ultimate loser.

Building the career

He had spent time and effort to build the comedian’s career – only to lose him to another agent when the comedian starts earning more money. He would have been smarter business-wise spending the same time and effort working with a comedian who was also a legally signed business partner so the agent wouldn’t be cut out on the future rewards gained from his work.

That’s why you’re not going to find as many talent agents that are willing to free-lance anymore. No one likes to get burned.

So if a talent agent is serious about a comedian, chances are good (there are always exceptions) they’ll want an exclusive agreement. This is a signed contract promising you (the comedian) won’t work with any other talent agent for as long as the contract is binding.

But keep in mind this is a two-way business deal.

Sometimes comics (speakers or other performers) will go with any agent that will sign them – just because they feel it will speed things up on their road to success. As I’ve heard way too many times hanging around with comedians in comedy clubs:

“I NEED an agent!”

But signing with the wrong agent – one that doesn’t share the same vision for your career and goals – can be more of a headache than getting gigs on your own.

To quote Smokey Robinson: “You’d better shop around.”

As a comic you want to work with a talent agent that shares your career goals.

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It’s not uncommon for performers to sign with different agents when ideas change or don’t go as planned. Always make sure there’s a time limit in your business partnership after which you can re-sign or opt-out of the contract. You don’t want to be stuck indefinitely with an agent that can’t help you.

Reason?

When you sign with a talent agent, they receive a commission on any work you do during the time of your exclusive contract. I personally know a few comics that had signed with ineffective (small time) agents that didn’t do squat for their careers. But when the comic hit it big on his own or with someone else working for him and money started rolling in – guess who showed up?

Yeah – you’ve got that right. It was the small time agent that had an exclusive contract.

In all the cases I know they were paid BIG money settlements before agreeing to let the comedian turned star opt-out of the contract. So, keep in mind that a talent agent can be a long-term business partner and you BOTH need to make a decision on whether or not you want to work together.

Now onto the talent booker…

A talent booker is the person that will hire you for work.

For instance, the guy (or girl) that schedules the acts for your local comedy club is considered the booker for that club. He’s not going to find you work at a rival club across the street because it will pay you more money. Your talent agent would do that.

On a larger scale, a nationwide chain of clubs like The Improv will have one booking agency scheduling the headliners for all their clubs. But don’t even think about asking them to book you into a rival club if all their slots are filled. Again, it’s your agent’s job to find you work.

Of course, the waters can always be a little muddy with some talent bookers also acting as talent agents. What I’m telling you is only a simple overview of how it’s supposed to work.

If you want more details about what a talent agent does (and talent managers) check out my book How To Be A Working Comic. Yeah, I know that’s a blatant plug, but since I’m signed with a literary agent, I need to follow my contract and sell books for her to get a commission.

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Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!!

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